The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with BCR Fegan and Review of Don't Drink the Pink
Each story begins with the desire to delight young children;
to tantalise their imaginations;
and to kindle their curiosity. ~ B.C.R. Fegan
B.C.R. Fegan is a multi-award-winning author who has written a number of fairy tales and fantasies for children and young adults.
Raised on a small hobby farm only minutes from some of Australia’s greatest beaches, Fegan grew up inspired by the power of nature’s ambience. From the intensity of the frequent summer storms, to the overwhelming serenity of a lonely beach in the early hours of the morning. His ravenous appetite for both reading and writing soon saw him drawing on the transformational influence of the world around him to craft short stories, poems and picture books.
He crafts stories “written not, by the adult carefully layering imaginative themes upon any number of agenda’s, but instead written by the child within. These are tales where anything can happen and where adventures lurk around every corner. ”
His newest picture book Don’t Drink the Pink releases today.
Happy Book Birthday!
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
B.C.R.: Well, let’s see now – I love to write in the quiet corners of cafes, old libraries or anywhere with a large hearth and a soft armchair. Oh, and in my study of course. I try and write as often as I can although I tend to find I’m most studious very early in the morning or late at night.
How long have I been writing? Well, pretty much for most of my life. I’ve always loved the idea of bringing ideas to life and I was writing short stories on small stapled scraps of paper long before I began school (okay, they were pretty basic, but I thought they were special at the time). Throughout my school life I continued writing and even when I graduated, I continued to grow my collection of story-filled notebooks. I think I always knew I would eventually publish them, but it was only three years ago that it became a serious consideration.
So, what is my favourite type of book to write? Ooh, that’s a hard one. It really depends how I’m feeling at the time. I remember how excited I was as a child with certain picture books, so I love crafting books that I hope will have the same effect on children today. On the other hand, I also love to write YA fiction which allows me to be a bit more descriptive and delve into some deeper emotional issues. I’d say I love writing both in equal measure, but for different reasons.
It can be fun not being constrained to the condensed format of a picture book. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
In addition to writing, I enjoy composing music when I have a spare moment (increasingly rare).
Hadn't heard this one, yet. Where did the idea for Don’t Drink the Pink come from?
Virtually all of my books come through the simple contemplation of ideas that children might relate to or find exciting – adventure, treasure, fairy tales, mysteries etc. With respect to Don’t Drink the Pink, I really wanted to focus on magical moments a child has growing up. A lot of the additional themes throughout the story really grew from there.
We all need to a little magic in our lives. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?
I think it would be to seek out ways to increase your capacity for wisdom. Essentially understanding the connection between what is true and what is right. There seems to be so much conflict these days between what we consider to be factual or what we consider to be a moral position. I think the capacity to navigate all this turbulence will become increasingly important as time goes on.
Interesting. But it would be nice, if rather than "navigate," we could reduce the turbulence. What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for Don’t Drink the Pink?
I think early on in the process it was seeing the text come to life with Lenny Wen’s incredible illustrations. When I write, I do it with images in my head that are complimentary and in many ways essential to the text. Yet Lenny is able to create something that goes beyond my own ideas. What she creates is a thoughtful, emotive and ambient work of art on every page.
Later on in the process, the most rewarding (and often daunting) part is the reactions from early reviewers. To hear that someone’s child adores the book makes every difficulty throughout the process pale significantly.
Her "old-time," period illustrations are captivating. Who/what is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)
An important source of inspiration for me is my wife who is an incredibly intelligent, wise and simply beautiful person. Getting to where I am now in this writing journey can very much be attributed to her in more ways than I could probably list.
What a great gift. Is there something special you want your readers to know about Don’t Drink the Pink?
Ooh – there certainly are plenty of secrets embedded into the book, but I think part of the fun is pouring over each page and looking for them. Perhaps I’ll say this – there have been quite a few different options over what the ending of the book actually signifies. Of course, the gentle ambiguity was written purposefully in order to promote discussion as well as to speak to children at different stages of their life. However, the book itself does contain clues as what might have really happened – if you look hard enough.
Ah, so you've laid down the challenge. Having written six other picture books, The World’s Greatest Mousetrap (2019), The Day that A Ran Away (2018), Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32 (2018), Titch, the Itch (2017), Henry and the Hidden Treasure (2017), The Grumpface (2017), do you find you have a common thread among your books? How is Don’t Drink the Pink different from the others? Was it harder or easier? Why?
Absolutely! Encouraging imagination has always been a common thread. I want the story to be exciting and to grip a child’s imagination for days to come. Of course, each book contains layers of learning (depending on their life stage) but the overriding themes have always been to get the reader excited about the power of imagination.
Don’t Drink the Pink is probably only different to the others in that it tackles some more complex issues for young minds – being aging and death. I think this made the book a little more difficult to write simply because every word, concept and potential impression needed to be considered and sensitively applied. I think in the end though, any adults who might want to read the book to children can be confident knowing that the issues are touched on gently and carefully.
That's a great common thread. Releasing two or three books a year, did you discover any publicity/marketing or school visit secrets you could share?
I hate to disappoint, but unfortunately I’m still searching for these secrets myself.
I suppose it's good to know we are all still learning as we go. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Of course. Right now, I’m finalising the first book of a YA series. It’s about a boy desperate for friendship among his unaccepting peers. During a dismal school camp experience, he stumbles across a secret that will confront his understanding about what friendship really means.
Interesting. Any advice you can give those balancing on the cusp of getting an agent or getting published?
If you’re passionate about writing, don’t give up! Chances are it will be harder than you think to get your book/s into the world, but time spent perfecting your manuscript, building a unique platform and preparing yourself for bold publicity will serve you well.
Never give up. What is your favorite animal? (Or one you are currently enamored with) Why?
Definitely the marmoset. What’s not to like about a cheeky monkey that fits in the palm of your hand?
Thank you B.C.R. for sharing a bit about yourself and your books.
To find out more about B.C.R. Fegan, or get in touch with him:
Review of Don't Drink the Pink
Finding books that tackle the emotions surrounding the loss of a relative has been a little easier as of late with books like Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved, The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers, Boats For Papa by Jessixa Bagley, and Ida, Always by Caron Levis. This is another book to add to that list.
As Fegan mentioned above, a dose of imagination can temper a tough subject. And I suppose that depending of the developmental stage and need of the reader, leaving the ending a bit vague allows them to find the mirror or window that they need. This is book, with its rhyme and magic, is a little more lighthearted, but nonetheless tackles the emotions and strategies for dealing with loss.
Don't Drink the Pink
Author: B.C.R. Fegan
Illustrator: Lenny Wen
Publisher: TaleBlade Press (2019)
Rhyming, intergenerational, aging, imagination, magic, and death.
Follow the special relationship between Madeline and her Grandfather as they both grow and share in the most magical birthday experiences. Filled with secrets to uncover and brimming with imagination, Don’t Drink the Pink explores a number of basic concepts including colors, numbers and the reality of growing older.
Grandfather Gilderberry never seems to rest. He’s always in his workshop, working at his best.
Dad thinks he’s crazy. Mom thinks he’s just old. But I think he’s amazing and worth his weight in gold.
What I liked about the book:
The next two stanzas set up the pattern for the rest of the book.
On my first birthday, he came with a surprise. He had a box of potions, and a twinkle in his eyes.
With a yearly refrain that pulls the reader along from Madeline's first birthday through to her fifteenth birthday -
“Happy birthday, Madeline,” he said with a wink. “Take a potion, take a brew. Just don’t drink the pink.”
Each year, Madeline happily chooses a vial from the box and drinks a potion. Each time, a magic thing happens for the rest of the day. For instance, she breathes fire, turns into a mermaid, shrinks all the kids at her party, and becomes invisible. And until her fifteenth birthday, she avoids the pink one.
Text © BCR Fegan, 2019. Image © Lenny Wen 2019.
As Madeline ages through the book, so does Grandfather Gilderberry.
Text © BCR Fegan, 2019. Image © Lenny Wen 2019.
Not shying away from a tough topic, Fegan and Wen show us the deep loss that Madeline feels when Grandpa Gilderberry dies a month before her fifteenth birthday. When she goes to his workshop, "to think and cry," she discovers the final vial - the Pink one.
With a bit of a "magical" twist and an open ending, Fegan leaves the reader wondering exactly what happened on this magical fifteenth birthday. Readers are sure to enjoy watching the antics of Madeline's cat that Lenny added into the illustrations.
As a matter of craft, there were just a few instances of near rhyme or twisted grammar. But overall, it was a fun book to read aloud. I think any rough patches in the rhyme may possibly be attributed to the difference in an Australian and a US accent (rain/again; full/invisible; sun/everyone; come/mom). The refrain, though repeated fifteen times, is one that kids will quickly learn, anticipate, and likely enjoy chanting along with the reader. Creating a great moment of interaction. It is a fun book that softly wraps the reality of aging grandparents (or other relations) into a mantle of magic, wonder, and love.
- If you could drink from a magic vial & do something amazing or unusual for a day, what would you do? Write a story or draw a picture of the vial and what you do with your amazing gift; or
- draw or write about something special you do with your grandparents or an Aunt/Uncle; or
- as a parent, relative, or teacher, examine the resources available to help kids express and handle these emotions (http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3757796) & grief activities from K-5 (http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3758055).